Anti-spam law gets its first workout in Christchurch

Raid leads DIA to ask for $200,000 penalties on three defendants

In the first court action under new anti-spamming laws, the Department of Internal Affairs has asked the High Court to impose penalties of $200,000 on each of three New Zealanders allegedly involved in an international spamming operation.

The DIA's statement of claim, filed in Christchurch, alleges that company directors Shane Atkinson, of Christchurch, his brother Lance Atkinson, of Queensland, and Roland Smits, also of Christchurch, were involved in sending over two million emails to New Zealand addresses between September 5 and December 31, 2007, earning sales commissions of more than US$2 million from a global operation.

The emails marketed Herbal King, Elite Herbal and Express Herbal branded pharmaceutical products, including sex toys and replica watches, manufactured and shipped by Tulip Lab of India, through a business known as the Genbucks Affiliate Programme. This business was operated by Genbucks Ltd, a company incorporated in the Republic of Mauritius.

It is the first court action under the new Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act and follows a raid on four Christchurch addresses last December.

The Department had been working with international agencies for two months gathering evidence on the Christchurch operation when, just days before the raid, Shane Atkinson allegedly instructed his brother, Lance, to cease spamming after being contacted by BBC reporters investigating their activities.

Internal Affairs Deputy Secretary Keith Manch paid tribute to the co-operation with overseas agencies, particularly the USA's Federal Trade Commission, in helping the Department conclude its investigation.

"The FTC was a great help," Keith Manch said. "They were able to provide technical information which made it possible for our investigators to identify the defendants and obtain evidence of the alleged offending."

The FTC has filed its own complaint in the US District Court against Lance Atkinson, his Australian Company, Inet Ventures Pty Ltd, an American citizen, Jody Smith, and three US companies over alleged spamming activities conducted after Internal Affairs seized computers and records from the Christchurch operation.

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